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“It’s an exciting time for Latinos,” a New York producer tells the struggling Argentinian actor of Nobody’s Watching. She then advises him to work out, get rid of his accent and darken his hair — in other words, to stop being himself. This and other identity issues are at the heart of Julia Solomonoff’s thoughtful, perceptive third feature, in which Tribeca award-winning actor Guillermo Pfening delivers a masterful, low-key performance that subtly unpacks the psychology of how immigration can turn lives into lies. The film’s probing, compassionate take on a hidden life should ensure that in Hispanic territories, at least, somebody will be watching.
Solomonoff’s last movie, the multiple award-winning The Last Summer of La Boyita, likewise dealt with people — kids, specifically — tackling issues of identity, its social themes playing out through engaging characters in a movie more universally appealing than Nobody’s Watching. In this case, the question under discussion is how where we are affects who we are. Partly for professional reasons and partly to get out of a relationship with his older lover Martin (Rafael Ferro), TV actor Nico (Guillermo Pfening), formerly a star in a prime time show in Argentina, has headed to New York, hoping to make a career there.
But that’s not as easy as it sounds, and little lies are appearing in Nico’s life: When he tells his mother over the phone that he’s at a party, he’s actually working in a bar; he steals food from supermarkets; and the movie project he’s traveled to the U.S. to work on — and for which he needs to get a green card — is looking increasingly wobbly. From the professional point of view, the film is set up as a series of ever-more toe-curling humiliations, with Nico a victim of the whims of haughty producer Kara Reynolds (Cristina Morrison).
Nico is also taking care of Theo, the toddler son of his yoga teacher friend Andrea (Elena Roger), in the one relationship that is uncontaminated by professional or racial considerations: The scene where he half-jokingly tells his flatmate Claire (Kerri Sohn), someone apparently close to him, that he’s thinking of marrying her to get the green card is excruciating to watch.
Though the script is pretty good on depicting the broken dreams that strew the path of the wannabe actor, its scope reaches wider, making it a timely portrayal (immigration, Brexit) on the multiple frustrations of being a stranger in a strange land, even when that stranger is as bourgeois as they come. Nico is the victim of quietly racist and sexist attitudes (the nannies who assume he must be Theo’s father), but there’s also the sense that Nico’s pride is getting in the way, especially when Andrea offers him a permanent job as a nanny. After all, he could simply admit defeat and return home at any point. The matter is complicated when his stubbornness is recast as artistic integrity: At one point, Nico admits to Kara that he’d rather look after children than perform in soaps.
When his friend Pablo (Marco Antonio Caponi) comes to visit (none of his friends have tried for stateside success, and they’re all more successful than Nico is), Nico takes Pablo to the bar where he works, but has to pretend that he doesn’t work there. The film is full of little scenes of hypocrisy which in different hands could easily have been played for laughs, but Solomonoff has a serious point to make — that immigration can turn the lives of human beings into lies that estrange us from ourselves.
As his Tribeca honor suggests, Pfening, who appears in every scene, delivers a performance of low-level intensity which is never less than watchable, even when you’re screaming at him just to admit his failure and get out of there. Through the latter part of the film, the performance becomes truly moving, since despite the half-smile than continues to play about his lips, Nico has turned self-destructive and is clearly broken inside.
Solomonoff’s direction is unobtrusive and, aided by some seamless editing, all about getting the story told in the most efficient way possible, but when she does permit herself a stylistic flourish, as in a late musical sequence featuring Nico and Martin during the latter’s visit to New York, it is very effective. Also effective are DP Lucio Bonelli’s downbeat, non-romantic take on New York (Solomonoff is a resident) and Sacha Amback’s attractive score. On the downside, some of the performances by American actors come across as a little wooden by comparison with those of their counterparts, who come from several different Latin American countries, but who would no doubt be lumped together by Kara Reynolds as “Latinos.”
Production companies: Cepa Audiovisual, Madlove Film Factory, Taiga Filmes E Video, Aleph Motions Picture, La Panda Productions, Travesia Producciones
Cast: Guillermo Pfening, Elena Roger, Rafael Ferro, Marco Antonio Caponi, Cristina Morrison
Director: Julia Solomonoff
Screenwriters: Christina Lazaridi,
Producers: Felicitas Raffo, Andres Longares, Natalia Agudelo Campillo, Nicolas Herreno Leal, Lucia Murat, Jaime Mateus-Tique, Elisa Lleras, María Teresa Arida
Director of photography: Lucio Bonelli
Production designers: Maite Perez-Nievas, Mariela Ripodas
Editors: Karen Sztanjberg, Andres Tambornino
Composer: Sacha Amback
Casting directors: Geraldine Baron-Visher, María Laura Berch
Sales: FiGa Films
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